If football games are won in the trenches, it only seems appropriate to take a closer look at the Raiders’ defensive line.
The Raiders released Gerard Warren this winter and drafted Lamarr Houston from the University of Texas to solidify the defensive line.
Warren was inconsistent, showing flashes the past couple seasons. The former first-round selection has never played to his talent level. The Raiders were the third team to give up on him. Of course, he was also due a sizable salary in 2010 and that money can be put to better use.
The Raiders have surprising decided to put Houston at defensive end, instead of his college position of defensive tackle. What on the surface seems like an odd move is actually a very logical one.
Houston’s talents would be wasted playing the one-technique tackle position and the three-technique tackle position is still being occupied by Tommy Kelly.
Kelly has been much criticized due to the large contract he received in 2007. While Kelly may never live up to the money he was paid, he hasn’t been a horrible player.
In 2009, Kelly totaled 14 quarterback pressures and five quarterback hits, with one sack. He was routinely good in pass rush. Obviously his weakness is still defending the run, but the Raiders have never asked the three-technique tackle to support the run on a regular basis.
The job of supporting the run has been placed in the lap of the other defensive tackle. The Raiders hope Desmond Bryant, the second year player out of Harvard, is ready succeed where Warren failed.
Tom Cable has routinely talked about Bryant as a player the Raiders are excited about. One quarterback pressure and one forced fumble in 2009 is enough to get excited about? It is, because Bryant is the primary run defender on the defensive line. He will need to improve upon his solid rookie campaign and keep bodies off of rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain.
What about the ends? How do the Raiders plan to use Houston, Seymour and Matt Shaughnessy?
Seymour is unique; he is able to play tackle in obvious passing situations and end. This will allow the Raiders to keep Kelly, Houston and Shaughnessy on the field. There is no need to worry about Richard Seymour, unless he holds out of training camp.
This pass rush centric grouping should be able to bring a solid pass rush from just the front four, but would expose the Raiders up the middle to the run. The Raiders drafted McClain to solve this obvious problem. Don’t expect McClain to come off the field in anything but third and very long situations.
In down and short situations, Houston, Seymour, Kelly and Bryant would be the run stopping group. It isn’t that Shaughnessy is bad at defending the run, but Houston should be more effective clogging gaps.
The Raiders have bet heavily that McClain is going to be able to deter teams from running up the gut, forcing ball carriers outside where the line can be more effective.
The Raiders will not have a ton of speed along the defensive line, but all the players are quick, agile and strong with a good first step.
The logical conclusion, however hard to believe, is that the Raiders will blitz outside linebackers more frequently in 2010 when extra pressure is needed.
Kamerion Wimbley has never played the SAM linebacker position. He has played as a rush end and rush linebacker. He knows how to rush the passer. The Raiders would be unwise to waste his best attribute.
Trevor Scott’s best attribute as a WILL linebacker is also pass rushing. Thomas Howard would be the primary coverage linebacker.
Quentin Groves is also seen as a pass rushing type linebacker. All signs point to the Raiders bringing a fifth or sixth guy to put pressure on the quarterback.
The Raiders have logically built the defensive line to be both improved against the run and pass.
If the Raiders defensive line can improve along with the linebackers, the Raiders have the potential to be one of the better defensive teams in the league.